Posts filed under ‘Urban Farming’

Fertilizing a food desert

interfaith-food-shuttle-Hoke StAn urban farm and community garden has sprouted at 500 Hoke Street in southeast Raleigh. Though it’s only two miles from the capital’s trendy eateries, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle farm is at the heart of a “food desert.”

Most of its neighbors can’t afford to dine upscale downtown. And there’s no supermarkets nearby where they can find healthy groceries for their families. Urban food deserts typically rely on fast-food joints and convenience stores, where calories are cheap but not necessarily nutritious. That’s a recipe for the growing incidence of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other costly ailments related to poor diets.

Hoke Street turned out to be an ideal location for the urban farm and training center for Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, the anti-hunger nonprofit serving Raleigh and seven surrounding counties for the last 25 years. The new three-acre site now includes community garden beds for residents wishing to grow their own produce, and an urban farm and training center for interns learning to cultivate and sell healthy food.


Katie Murray

“We set up this space so people could see how food is grown, and grow it themselves” said Katie Murray, who coordinates IFFS urban agriculture training programs. We visited during the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s annual farm tour.

Half a dozen families are growing vegetables in the new IFFS community garden. And there’s an open raised bed for curious neighbors who want to taste what’s sprouting — red leaf lettuce when we visited. IFFS also has cultivated a partnership with Will Allen, the now-famous MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellow behind Growing Power, the organization teaching young people around the country about innovative sustainable practices for urban farming enterprises. IFFS has four interns through the program, working at the Raleigh farm and learning about composting, vermiculture, aquaponics, hoop houses, mushrooms, micro-greens and more.

“The goal is to grow food here and sell it through local farmers’ markets and to restaurants,” Murray said. The interns are gaining experience to develop their own small enterprises through a collaborative local alliance.

The farm is adjacent to a 14,000 square-foot warehouse, where IFFS stores local food gleaned from farms and delivers it to neighborhoods through its mobile market program. The IFFS warehouse also serves as a community grocery store during a monthly market on fourth Fridays.

Inter-Faith Food Shuttle also has a Teaching Farm on Tryon Road, with incubator plots for those ready to start their own farming enterprises.


October 15, 2014 at 3:46 pm 4 comments

Urban farm/market sprouting in shipping containers

It’s too early to tell if Ben Greene is a genius or a dreamer, or maybe a little of both. We’re betting on him, though, because he’s thinking “inside the box” and that alone is just plain refreshing.  In this case the box is a shipping container with some greenhouse components. The mission is to bring sustainable food production to a convenient location in the city where food can be bought on the spot while it’s still growing. It’s called The Farmery.

Ben’s dream is to launch an urban greenhouse/ farmer’s market inside four 40-foot shipping containers in Raleigh. He says they will grow Shitake mushrooms, micro-greens, strawberries, Tilapia and more inside the contraption, and you’ll be invited in to pick your own. Food will grow in a greenhouse structure on the upper level; he’ll ring you up downstairs. It doesn’t get any fresher than that. The whole thing is about 55′ x 55′, which makes it easy to tuck into an urban space. He’ll supplement what he grows with local goods from local farmers.

Where did he get this  brainstorm? He wrote it up for his master’s thesis in industrial design from N.C. State University, one of the best design schools in the country. So maybe he IS a genius.

Check out the video.

Why the Farmery?

“We’ve recognized how difficult it is for supermarkets to offer locally grown produce, primarily because of the inconsistent supply,” Ben says. “When the grocers do make attempts to sell locally grown produce, they have nothing more than a sign to differentiate the locally grown produce from the conventional, nationally grown produce located next to it.”

The Farmery offers a new way to shop for food where the story of the farmers and their food is experienced throughout the shopping experience itself.

“The entire structure of the Farmery is used to grow food, so customers can be surrounded by the sights, smells, and sounds of their food growing as they are making their purchase decisions,” Ben says. “This helps customers understand and appreciate the added value of small-scale, artisanal farming.”

After testing this container for a year, Ben proved that his concepts worked and he began looking for additional funding sources. In 2011, Tyler Nethers moved to Raleigh to help Ben. Together they built a more refined second prototype in Raleigh. They are now seeking funding on to construct the third prototype. After the third prototype is built, they will begin construction on the initial Farmery.

Their story

Ben, 29, grew up on a farm in Polk County, North Carolina, where his interest in food and nature’s system began. He ended up pursuing Sculpture at Clemson where he developed a thirst for original ideas. His college career was interrupted by a deployment to Iraq where he served as a combat engineer as part of the invasion force in 2003. He resumed college after his deployment and went to North Carolina State University’s industrial design program.

While Ben was at NC State, his grandfather began trying to sell homegrown produce to local restaurants and markets. Ben saw the frustration that his grandfather experienced and decided to look for solutions that would make producing food on a small scale profitable. He got the idea for the Farmery, he says, from reading shipping container architecture books and reading articles about ideas in vertical farming.

Tyler, 29, from Indiana, has always had an interest in natural systems and looks for opportunities to pursue these interests wherever he can. He majored in sustainable development and managed the campus greenhouse at Appalachian State University, graduating in 2005. After a few years designing biological systems for commercial developments, he took a job in Hawaii growing endangered species plants. He learned about the Farmery after a web search and after a couple of visits to Ben’s prototypes, he decided to move to Raleigh and join the team.

Why shipping containers?

Shipping containers dramatically lower the cost and difficulties of construction. “They also make the structure easily scalable and allow us to prototype the entire system and then just place the containers when the system is refined,” Ben says.

If Ben and Tyler can attract enough funding via Kickstarter and other sources, he hopes to begin construction in 2013. “We currently have about a third of what we need,” Ben says. You can help by donating through Kickstarter here:

September 24, 2012 at 9:05 pm Leave a comment

Now chefs can order local food online 24/7

Will Cramer of Ever Laughter Farm makes a delivery order that was placed online at Mint Market. (photo by

It’s a dream come true for local chefs who love fresh local food. Now, thanks to Mint Market, restaurants can order directly from farmers, bakers and other vendors 24/7 via a new online market, and expect the goods to be delivered to their door any day of the week. Chefs will pay wholesale prices and avoid traveling market to market in search of what they need.

It’s also a great deal for local farmers and vendors trying to expand their customer base. Instead of trying to spend another day at another market, they let Mint Market know what they have for sale in the coming week and if a local chef places an order, they deliver it directly.  Farmers can chat with the chef when they make the delivery, building the important relationships that chefs and fresh food vendors have always relied on. But with Mint, the business details are taken care of online.

Why hasn’t someone thought of this before? here are Tonline farmers markets in other foodsheds around the country. But Mint Market is the only online wholesale market, and it is designed just  for chefs.

It’s the brainchild of Rick Spero, who earned a physics doctorate at Carolina, and David Ivy, a computer science graduate of N.C. State.

September 8, 2012 at 3:59 pm 1 comment

Pittsboro farm growing food and power

NOTE:  The ribbon cutting has been re-scheduled to Nov. 4 at 4 p.m. 

Farmer Doug Jones is famous for growing peppers that thrive in the Piedmont. Lyle Estill is famous for producing biofuel from recycled vegetable oil. The two often trade brainstorms over at the Eco Industrial Park in Pittsboro NC, where Jones runs Piedmont Biofarm, Estill concocts new schemes at Piedmont Biofuels, and food and energy projects often feed each other.

Lyle got to wondering if they could grow both food and electrical power at the park, on the same piece of land.  What if they erected an array of solar collectors high enough off the ground that food could be grown in the partial shade beneath them? They will soon get a chance to find out, as their solar double-cropping experiment gets underway.

Piedmont Biofuels, Piedmont Biofarm and new partners Miraverse Power and Light and Southern Energy Management will have the official public ribbon cutting for the project at 4 pm on Nov. 4 at the Eco Industrial Park.

The endeavor consists of an elevated 92.16 kilowatt solar array that will generate electricity above the north field of Piedmont Biofarm, while sustainable produce is harvested at the ground level. The nine-foot clearance of the solar photovoltaic system is designed specifically to encourage growing crops that thrive in partial shade.

“Double Cropping is a term we borrowed from the wind industry,” said Estill, noting that wind generators often co-exist with working farms.

On the other hand, Estill noted, in some jurisdictions, solar installations are being banned on prime farmland.  “We need clean energy.  And we need sustainable food,” he said.  “This installation will enable both.”

Financing for the project has been provided by Michael and Amy Tiemann, who recently opened Manifold Recording, a world-class recording and production facility in Chatham County.  “The vision for this facility has always been based around sustainability,” they said in a press release. “When we began calculating the energy required to run this facility, we simultaneously envisioned how we could fit that into an overall sustainability plan.  Of all the options we considered, solar double-cropping was far and away the simplest, fastest, and best approach to meeting our energy needs without diminishing the rich agricultural potential of Chatham County.  What good is sustainable energy without sustainable agriculture?”

Michael sits on the Board of Advisors for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and has a keen interest in both renewable energy and local food.  He created Miraverse Power and Light as an entity for the double-cropping project.

Farmer Doug has been experimenting with partial shade crops for the past two growing seasons and will be farming beneath the array.  “As our agricultural zone changes, there are some vegetables that will benefit from some protection from the sun,” he said.

The 288-panel system is being installed by Southern Energy Management (SEM), a Morrisville-based company well known for utility scale solar arrays.  “We love this project because it challenges us to think about land use, climate change and where our food comes from, all at the same time,” said SEM co-founder Maria Kingery.  “This is the kind of project that made us want to get into the solar business in the first place and we hope to see many more projects like this in the future.”

This Solar Double Cropping project represents two years of planning, design, and engineering which resulted in a formal docket assignment by the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

September 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm 2 comments

Pittsboro Pepper Festival Oct. 2

The Pittsboro Pepper Festival may sound like it belongs on the list of “Top 10 Strangest Small Town Events in America,” but it’s one you don’t want to miss. While the obsession with local heirloom peppers might be a little quirky, this growing celebration of local food, beer, and music is truly a community event.  The 4th Annual Pittsboro Pepper Festival is set for Sunday, October 2, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the newly constructed community park in Briar Chapel (north Chatham county off of US 15-501).

Local hotshot chefs will present appetizers and desserts featuring over 60 varieties of heirloom local peppers (everything from sweet to hot).

You’ll also enjoy peppery beer.  It could take you all evening to swallow the spicy samples from this dazzling list of participants from A to Z:  Andrea Williams, Angelina’s Kitchen, Bean and Barrel, Benjamin Wineries, Bobby’s Water Ice, Cackalacky Cantina 18,  Carolina Brewery  Carolina Crossroads Restaurant   Chatham Marketplace, Chicken Bridge Bakery, Crook’s Corner, Fullsteam Brewery,  Dos Perros Restaurant, 8 Seaboard, Hillsborough BBQ, The Granary at Fearrington, General Store Cafe, Green Man Brewery, Glass Half Full,  Lucky 32, Market Restaurant   On the Square,     Mez , The Natural Chef Program @ CCCC , Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery,  Triangle Brewery,  Saxapahaw General Store,  Starrlight Meadery, Stevie’s Booch, Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe  and  Zely & Ritz.

The festival sprung from the work of Doug Jones, farmer extraordinaire of Piedmont Biofarm. He has been creating and growing special peppers designed to thrive in Pittsboro and the Piedmont. He grows about 100 varieties at his farm on the eastern side of Pittsboro, and he wants you to love peppers as much as he does.

“Ripe peppers are an underutilized and under appreciated super food,” Doug says. “They grow exceptionally well in the piedmont of NC, our climate.  We want to develop the consumer demand and increase the growers in our region.  Peppers are exceptionally high in Vitamin A and Vitamin C as well as flavor and phytonutrients.”

There will also be live music by Justin Robinson and the Mary Annettes, and Lonnie Walker. Stick around for the crowning of the King and Queen of the festival.  And bring the kids, face-painting and plenty of activities for the whole family.

Pittsboro Pepper Fest proceeds go to the Abundance Foundation and Piedmont Biofarm.

Admission is $20 in advance until Sep 13, $25 until Oct 1st, or $30 at the entrance and includes all-access to food and entertainment. Beverages are cash bar. As always, the Pittsboro Pepper Festival’s screen-printed Limited Edition 2011 t-shirts and posters will be on sale at the festival.

Sponsors include: Briar Chapel, Sanford Construction, WCHL, Sanford Contractors, Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery, openNMS, McKim & Creed,  Burt’s Bees Corporate Investors Mortgage Group, Piedmont Biofuels, Larry’s Beans, Chatham County Economic Development, Bradshaw & Robinson, LLP, JY Visuals, Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance,  The Sustainable Agriculture Program, Central Carolina Community College , Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Kinder Soles, Krombach Dunn & Co, PLLC, Garlick and Murray Family Medicine, Weaver Street Realty, Country Farm & Home, Chatham Mills Farmers’ Market, NC Agritourism Networking Association, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Chatham Portables, Eco Products.

September 20, 2011 at 7:47 pm Leave a comment

Shitake mushroom workshop

Here’s a great way to celebrate spring, contribute to a unique community garden, and learn how to grow shitake mushrooms.

The Carolina Campus Community Garden will have a shitake workshop on Sunday March 20 from 1 to 3 p.m.  You can learn how to grow shitakes by helping UNC staff and students prepare 12 logs with mushroom plugs for the garden. Leading the workshop will be Aaron Moody, a geography professor who grows mushrooms on the side.

You will also get to sample some delicious dishes made with shitakes. How about some mushrooms with fontina cheese over polenta?

The garden was developed last year by Claire Lorch and colleagues to give UNC employees and students access to fresh local food that they can raise themselves and share with others. It’s located on University property on Wilson Street, off of Cameron Avenue just a couple of blocks west of the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill.

The workshop is free, but you are welcome to give a donation to the garden. For more information, contact Claire at

March 17, 2011 at 7:56 pm Leave a comment

Southern Sweets

Here’s an excerpt from a Piedmont Biofarm CSA  blog post by Elizabeth Thompson, who shares my deep affection for a certain subterranean food stock.

“Moving here from the North, there were a number of farm favorites that I lost.  Brussels sprouts so sweet you can eat them raw, rhubarb by the armload for pies and jams, and crisp greens all summer long.  But it was a trade, and some wonderful vegetables have found their way into my southern life to replace the cool northerners I lost.  Among these are okra, peppers and tomatoes out my ears and, my favorite southern crop so far, the South American native sweet potato.  I always love the thrill and satisfaction of digging up potatoes from their summer lairs and piling them by the bucketful into the basement for our winter staple.  There is something even more thrilling for me about digging up the golden gems of sweet potatoes that seem to have preserved the summer sun’s life-giving energy so perfectly within their sweet, orange flesh.

“Now my love affair with this crop cannot end with poetic statements in the setting sun.  Next, this tuber must come into my home and kitchen to nourish my family through the colder months ahead.  How do I handle and prepare this delicious gift?”

Click here for Elizabeth’s advice on how to store sweet potatoes and cook them (with recipes for Cajun Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Hot and Sweet Gratin).

November 6, 2010 at 10:50 am 1 comment

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